For every baseball fan, there are four words that can automatically ease the pain of a long, dark winter. Pitchers and catchers report. It’s a tangible end to the offseason, but more importantly it’s the beginning of a new year filled with optimism and excitement. After months of planning, tweaking, and move making, it’s about time for the rubber to hit the road. It’s time to see how the newly shaped rosters of our favorite teams will actually perform. It’s also time when the business side of baseball puts their own roster to the test. That roster is the promotional schedule- the sports marketing equivalent to a team’s starting lineup.
The promotional schedule not only serves as the creative backbone for your sales force, but it also says a tremendous amount about your team. Taking pride in perfecting your promotional calendar tells your fans and community that the organization is invested in continual improvement of their product. Especially over the past couple of years, reductions in budget and soft sponsorship sales have been tough on promotional personnel. So now more than ever, it is essential to step up creatively to provide new and compelling reasons for fans to get excited about your season.
Building a perfect promotional schedule can start with something as simple as a change in mindset. Back when I was a young and impressionable baseball executive, I clearly remember one of my mentors describing his job to a client. “We throw 72 parties a year,” he said. That one line changed the way I developed a promotional schedule. Every home game is a party and you’re inviting the entire neighborhood. If you look at the plans for one of those parties- say a Tuesday night in June- and you aren’t excited about it, good luck at the gates. You must have goals for every single promotion in order to convince fans that attending a party multiple times at the same place is a worthwhile expenditure of their time and money.
What then are the most significant things an individual promotion needs to do? Here are five:
1) Sell tickets
2) Enhance the game experience
3) Elevate the team brand
4) Create partnership opportunities
5) Generate publicity and attention.
The more events you create that accomplish all of these goals simultaneously, the more perfect your promotional schedule will be. In and of themselves, these aims are pretty self explanatory and most promotions nail at least one of them. Honestly though, how many promotions on your schedule achieve them all at the same time? If you consistently challenge your creative team to approach promotional planning with an attention to comprehensive success based on these goals, your fans, community and colleagues will take notice.
With these objectives in mind, here are some more tips to help build the perfect promotional schedule.
Variety is the spice of life. If planning a promotional schedule for a sports team is like planning a season’s worth of parties, would you ever throw the exact same party twice? Fans need things to get excited about and giving them variety in your promotions creates anticipation for upcoming games. You also have to consider all of the different demographics that make up your fan base. There should literally be something for everyone in your promotional lineup.
Give your fans a voice. One of the greatest things about the ubiquitous nature of social media is that it’s so much easier to hear directly from your fans. Use that to your advantage and include their input and advice when coming up with promotions. One of most simple ways to get fans involved is by allowing them to vote on the aesthetics of giveaway designs. Instead of mandating the player name on the back of a t-shirt or the likeness used for a bobblehead, leave that decision to the fans and open it up for vote on your Facebook page. Wouldn’t you be more likely to attend an event you had a part in planning?
Providing value is not a fad. In the midst of the realities of a recession, value became the buzz word in promotions. Fans now expect more for their dollar and it should be that way. Even as familial budgets slowly rebound, providing value needs to remain a priority for teams. There are too many entertainment options to compete with to not try and deliver promotions that wow people. Luckily, sports teams have more resources to leverage as value than most business. A movie theater isn’t going to excite anyone by packaging a ticket with a behind the scenes tour of their projection room, but access and experiences at your venue can easily tip the scales when someone is deciding whether or not to take advantage of a promotion.
Old favorites can always be improved. Ask any baseball marketing executive what their most popular promotion is and odds are they’ll say fireworks. Fireworks draw everywhere, but that doesn’t mean you should just phone it in every time pyrotechnics are on the schedule. Think about ways to make small enhancements to these tried and true events. Work with your vendor to make sure that the music for fireworks displays are tied into larger themes for specific games. If you don’t already do so, allow fans down on to the field postgame to take in the show. Even fireworks can get stale if you neglect to shake things up.
Combine weaker ideas. If you just don’t feel like an idea stands on its own, merge it with other minor plans to create one big mega-promotion. For example, a discount hot dog night or a cartoon character appearance or kids run the bases promo or postgame movie might not floor folks by themselves. If you combined all of those smaller promotions into one massive kids’ extravaganza though, you’re much more likely to capture the attention of families who won’t be able to say no. When you can overload people’s senses with detail after exciting detail, it’s a lot easier to achieve the five important goals mentioned earlier.
The schedule release is a big deal. Again, if you aren’t excited about your promotional schedule, you can’t expect fans to be. Creating enthusiasm for your event calendar starts with its release to the public. The more fanfare your schedule is released to, the more likely fans and media will pay attention. Of course, you have to have compelling events and good ideas to really grab them. By essentially forcing a reaction out of your market, you can hone in on the promotions that the public perceives as most interesting. Conversely, you can start making early adjustments to improve promotions that don’t get a good reception.
Constantly add. Just because you’ve released your promotional schedule doesn’t mean the work is over. New promotions should be added to your calendar regularly, as the best ideas often come in the middle of the season when you’re surrounded with excitement of live event production. Pay close attention to current events and other teams to see if there are ideas you can tap into. Follow trending topics in social media to make sure you aren’t missing opportunities to capitalize on things you aren’t familiar with. Your promotional schedule is a living document that needs continual maintenance to stay fresh and persuasive.
With all the anticipation in the air as we close in on Spring Training and Opening Day, it’s equally exciting to see baseball’s brightest business ideas unveiled across the country. The infinite stream of creativity displayed annually is one of this industry’s most enduring strengths. Although building a perfect promotional schedule may be an endless endeavor, sports marketers have never been ones to shy away from taking things to the next level.